The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 are still remembered as one of the darkest times in American history. A newly formed settlement filled with fear of infiltration and destruction by the Devil led to one of the most famous witch hunts of all time.
In January, 1692, Elizabeth Parris, aged 9, and Abigail Williams began to have fits—violent and uncontrollable outbursts of screaming. When the local doctor diagnosed this as bewitchment, other girls in the area began to show similar symptoms. In late February, arrest warrants were issued—the Parris family’s Caribbean slave, Tituba, elderly Sarah Osborn and the homeless vagrant Sarah Good were arrested after being identified as witches by the two young Parris girls.
When the three witches were brought in front of Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, the local magistrates, their accusers attended the courtroom and performed their contortions, spasms and screaming. Osborn and Good pleaded their innocence—but Tituba confessed that she was, indeed, a witch.
As hysteria spread through the community and into the fledgling United States beyond, Tituba confessed that there were other “witches” who were in league with the Devil to fight against the Puritans. As fears grew stronger, more women were arrested—including upstanding church-going residents Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey and the young daughter of Sarah Good, who had just turned four.
Several of these women confessed and named more so-called witches. As more people were arrested, the local justice system started to become overwhelmed and governor of Massachusetts William Phips established a special court to deal with the witchcraft cases. This court soon began to deal out sentences—the first to be hung was Bridget Bishop. Soon, five others were found guilty and hung. By the end of the year, twelve people had been found guilty and hung. Another seven had died in jail, and one elderly man had been stoned to death.
As public support started to fall away, Governor Phips dissolved the special court for witches and the fear died down. Later, the courts deemed the trials unlawful, and one of the leading justices involved in the witch trials, Samuel Sewall, was made to apologize publicly for his role in events. Even as the courts passed legislation that would redeem the names of those found guilty of witchcraft and restitution funds were paid to the heirs, a dark cloud hung over Salem, and even to this day there are those who are still too terrified to linger too long in Salem.